Monday, September 24, 2012

Rumble Barrel Belgian Strong Dark Recipe

Two 5 gallon Balcones barrels.I’ve never aged a sour beer in a small (< 50 gallon) barrel because I’m wary of them. Small barrels are usually about same price as full-sized barrels, and thanks to their high surface-to-volume ratio they quickly impart a potent oak flavor, allow a higher rate of oxidation, and more rapid evaporation. However, when Balcones Distillery offered to send me two of the five gallon American oak barrels they age their spirits in I knew I’d find something to age in them.

Aging clean beers in small barrels has a number of advantages for homebrewers. Filling one requires a single batch, so the chances of introducing unwanted microbes (as we did with our first group bourbon-barrel-aged beer) is much lower. I switched to eight gallon buckets for primary fermentation last year; these larger fermentors allow me to brew six gallon batches, large enough to fill the barrels to the brim with fermented beer. Head space accelerates oxidation by allowing the staves at the top of the barrel to dry, so partial filling is not a viable option.

Crushed grain, and two bags of dark candi syrup.For some advice I emailed Doug Dozark, of Peg’s Cantina, brewer of some very well regarded beers aged in 5 and 15 gallon whiskey barrels. He suggested checking the oak level imparted by first use five gallon barrels after just three weeks, compared to two to three months for 15 gallon barrels. By comparison beers aged in full-sized barrels often age for six to twelve months before packaging.

The first barrel I’ll be filling (later this week) previously held Rumble, which Balcones distills from Mission figs, wildflower honey, and unrefined cane sugar. Those flavors made me think of a dark Belgian ale. I wanted something strong enough to stand up to the rapid extraction of oak and booze, Belgian Dark Strong (aka Quadrupel) fit the bill. It didn't hurt that I really enjoyed the batch of Pomegranate Quad I brewed in February with my neighbor, which I only kept a six-pack of for myself.

While this batch is technically a test-batch for Modern Times (we're on the hunt for a head brewer), it is more of a proof of concept than a recipe we can actually scale up. I used Valley 2-Row Pale Ale Malt as the base (also included in my Dubbel last year), which being malted on a small scale in Massachusetts probably won’t find its way into our Southern California mash tun. To the boil I added a pound each of D-90 and D-180 from Candi Syrup Inc, which I don’t believe is available yet on a craft brewing scale. I fermented the dense wort with East Coast Yeast Belgian Abbaye (ECY09), which isn’t available in commercial pitches. Not to mention aging in that small barrel (we'd need 186 of them to age a single brew on a 30 bbl system)!

A big beer needs a big starter, stir-plate helps.I do not plan to clean or otherwise sanitize the barrel before filling, the previous 124 proof resident took care of that. Oak is nearly impossible to sanitize with chemicals anyway because its porous texture allows microbes to penetrate deep into its grain. Heat is the best option, but even with near-boiling water it is difficult to sanitize a barrel completely because wood is such a good insulator. In addition, hot water would rinse away much of the residual spirit character.

Balcones Whisky barrels, the other one they set, can be purchased through some homebrewing stores. There are a number of other nano-distillers located around the country that sell their used barrels. In the DC area, Catoctin Creek’s 30 gallon rye barrels are a common sight at brewpubs. Tuthilltown in New York sells a variety of barrel sizes on their website that previously aged their whiskey.

Doug warned me against refilling barrels, but I’m hoping that I can rack the first beer out of the barrel, give it a quick rinse with really hot water to remove any trub, and then refill it immediately with a second batch. My planned second fill (a cinnamon/vanilla spiced imperial porter) will take a bit longer to extract adequate oak flavor, and should receive a softer spirit character. After each barrel ages two clean beers, I’m planning on splitting a 10 gallon batch of sour brown between them. I’m interested to taste the results, but I’ll be prepared to move the sour beer into carboys for additional aging if the oakiness becomes too potent before the beer is ready to bottle.

Rumble Barrel Belgian Strong Dark

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 6.25
Total Grain (Lbs): 20.13
Anticipated OG: 1.079
Anticipated SRM: 28.9
Anticipated IBU: 26.5
Brewhouse Efficiency: 66%
Wort Boil Time: 120 Minutes

59.6% - 12.00 lbs. Valley Pale Malt
24.8% - 5.00 lbs. German Vienna Malt
3.7% - 0.75 lbs. CaraMunich Malt
1.2% - 0.25 lbs. Crystal 120L
0.6% - 0.13 lbs. Carafa Special II
5.0% - 1.00 lbs. D-90 Candi Syrup
5.0% - 1.00 lbs. D-180 Candi Syrup

1.50 oz. Hallertauer Tradition (Pellet, 6.00% AA) @ 90 min.

0.50 Whirlfloc @ 15 min.
0.50 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 15 min.

East Coast ECY09 Belgian Abbaye

Water Profile
Profile: Washington, DC

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest - 60 min @ 151 F

9/6/12 Made a 1.25 L starter for my stir-plate. Didn't see much activity for 24 hours, but it looked and smelled fine after that.

9/8/12 Brewed by myself

No water adjustments.

Undershot pre-boil gravity slightly, and overshot my pre-boil volume. 9 gallons @ 1.052, 1.058 with the addition of the candi syrup (1 lb each D90 and D180). Extended the boil 30 minutes longer to further concentrate the wort.

Chilled to 68 F, pitched entire starter, hit with 30 seconds of pure oxygen, left at 64 F to ferment.
Strong fermentation by 12 hours Quickly threatened to blow-off in the 8 gallon bucket.

After 36 hours, from pitching, increased ambient to 66 F since fermentation already appeared to be slowing. 24 hours later, with the fermentation appearing nearly complete, I moved the fermentor to 74 F ambient to finish.

9/29/12 Down to 1.018, a bit sweeter than expected, but it should be perfect with the oak. Racked into the Balcones Rumble barrel, filled to the brim. Replaced the hard bung. The wood provided nucleation sites that caused the beer to foam when I checked on it a couple hours later. Left at 70 F ambient to age for a couple weeks.

10/21/12 Bottled with 2.75 oz of table sugar, aiming for 1.9 volumes of CO2.  Solid, but not overpowering barrel character. Tastes pretty good.

3/15/13 Turned out really well, nice blend of barrel and base beer characters.


Unknown said...

I very shortly will be picking up a 5 gal oak barrel myself. Are you only doing two clean batches because you cant keep the barrel "clean" any longer?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Partly sanitation concerns, and partly that with two barrels I don't want more than four clean barrel-aged beers in such rapid succession. While I'm brewing these batches the "real" test recipes for Modern Times are stacking up (we have 13 beers in my to-brew folder at the moment).

Tim said...

Have you noticed any specific contribution from the Valley Malt? The two batches I currently have made solely from my Valley Malt of the Month share (a basic pale ale and a spelt saison) definitely share a distinct flavor. I can't describe it well, but I'd say it's kinda minty.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Minty sounds more like something you'd get from hops than malt? I haven't noticed that flavor in the beers I've brewed with it, or the ones I've tasted from CBC and Wormtown. What I do get from Valley is a "grainy" flavor, a bit less refined than you usually get from larger maltsters, but I enjoy it in the right combination.

confictushome said...

You crazy man. I want to thank you for starting me down a strange and windy road of sour beers. Most of my family and friends think I've lost my wits, but I keep trying to tell them I'm just trying to brew what's not really all that commercially available. Domestic sours are pretty limited in availability (though Lips of Faith series is giving me hope!). Any way, for a individual brewer, it's been hard locating smaller barrels that aren't outrageously expensive new barrels. For sharing that place I have many thanks for you.

I have a question about transferring (especially when you end up doing it multiple times) are you using a pump or are you racking with a standard cane? Do you keep extra on hand to top up your barrels and how much extra would you keep on hand for a 5 or 15 gallon batch? When your testing flavors of a barrel are you just using a wine thief or something similar?

Unknown said...

Did you pitch wort and yeast directly into the barrel or into a glass fermentor first?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Primary fermentation is in an 8 gallon bucket to avoid the issues associated with fermenting in a barrel. I'll be racking the fermented beer into the barrel later this week.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

When I talked to Lauren Salazar at New Belgium a few weeks ago she said they were getting ready to bottle 500 hL of La Folie (with more new foeders on the way), nice to see an American brewery stepping up sour beer production like that.

I just use an auto-siphon to rack sours into and out of barrels (except the group barrels where a friend has a peristaltic pump). I’ll find a spot to store the small barrels up high enough to use gravity. With the short aging time on these small barrels for clean beers I am not planning on topping off. For the sours I'll probably just rack out if they start getting low or show signs of oxygen getting in. I have not gone the stainless steel nail route yet, I pull samples with a thief just like a carboy.

Charlottegator said...

Thanks for sharing your knowledge. I have 2 of those same barrels coming this weekend. I was planning on doing a clean beer or two then hopefully making them my sour barrels. I have 2 questions. 1- what was Doug's concern regarding refilling the barrels? Only the ability to keep them from getting infected (obviously when wanting another clean beer). 2- Lauren Salazar spoke at our beer club meeting a few weeks ago and someone asked her about souring in a charred barrel. What I got from her response was that it wasn't ideal. That perhaps the charred surface would inhibit the bugs ability to penetrate the wood. She did say to go ahead and try it though. But I am wondering what your thoughts are. I was thinking about trying to scrape in the barrel with something to expose fresh wood. Is it worth it? Have you had success with getting charred barrels to sour beer?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Exactly, his concern was about sanitation. On a commercial scale, dealing with multiple barrels, it is much safer/easier to only fill barrels once with clean beer. As a homebrewer it should be easier to empty and then quickly refill.

We’ve got two retired bourbon barrels aging sours without issue. We’ve even rinsed one out and refilled it with clean beer, no issue with the subsequent souring by the microbes in the wood. The flavor contributed by charred wood certainly melds best with a bigger/darker sours, not ideal for a lambic, but that is a personal preference sort of thing. I don’t think scrapping is worth the effort, but it could work if you wanted to do a paler/lighter beer.

Good luck!

Jim Thompson said...

Just to add my thoughts... my wife and I purchased two 10 gallon barrels - one rum and one maple/bourbon. We had about 3 gallons of "cheap" rum laying around the house. We have since added 4 more gallons by picking up a few 1.75L each time I go by the store. Before and after aging batches of clean beer we refill the barrel with the 7 gallons, tie down the bung and rotate the barrel 45 degrees daily. We have also been slowly spicing the rum when it is out of barrel (in an old 10 gallon bottling bucket). Our second clean beer came out of the first barrel yesterday with little signs of oxidation and no evidence of sour microbes, even though my sour "cart" sat just 5 feet away for part of the late summer (not smart, I know). Anyway just another approach to consider. Now I need to find 5 or 6 gallons of cheap whiskey or bourbon to keep my second barrel "wet".